The Social Security Act was signed by FDR in August 1935 to provide economic security for America’s working citizens. It is a political creation which explains the multiple changes both large and small in the ensuing years and the massive entitlement it has become. When and how to claim Social Security is as unique as each beneficiary, so we will not answer that here, but there are some important things to know about the program itself.

It was never intended as a retirement program.

Retired workers typically collect about 40% of their pre-retirement income in Social Security benefits, or around $1,400/month, compared to the maximum benefit in 2019 of $2,861. However, the amount received can vary widely because Social Security benefits are based on a recipients highest 35 years of income. Social Security is best viewed as a supplement to your own retirement savings plan.

But it remains vitally important.

Social Security data shows that more than 60% of retired workers count on their benefits to comprise at least half of their monthly income.

The longer you wait, the bigger your benefit check.

Everyone has their own Full Retirement Age, depending on your birth year. For anyone born after 1960, it is age 67. You can begin drawing benefits as early as age 62, but you will receive fewer monthly dollars. Conversely, for every year past your Full Retirement Age, up to age 70, your benefits will increase by 8% annually. This is nearly always a better answer. If you have the means to delay drawing benefits, do so.

The majority of people do not wait.

According to the Centers for Retirement Research at Boston College, approximately 60% of seniors file for benefits before hitting their Full Retirement Age. Past surveys suggest more than one-third of those early filers regret having done so.

Social Security will be there for you.

Its existence isn’t in question, rather its features. Social Security is a pay-as-you-go program. Current payroll taxes pay for the current benefits. In the early years, there were many workers for each retiree so the program ran a surplus. Now there are only a handful of workers for each retiree. This is why Social Security trustees continue to project the point at which benefit payments will exceed program income for the first time.

Nevertheless, fears that Generation X or the Millennials will not receive their Social Security benefits are way overblown. No Congress will have the political will to do away with the program entirely. However, the contours of the program will certainly have to adjust to adapt to the changing financial reality.

The proper role of Social Security benefits should be viewed as one tool among many used to help meet your retirement planning goals. Social Security benefits can be complex and are often best addressed with the guidance of a trusted counselor.